I first heard My Morning Jacket on 2004's It Still Moves. Jim James' haunting, echoing Kentucky-rock drawl combined with the sonic bombardment of guitars was like nothing I'd ever heard.
So I was really excited to find the At Dawn/Tennesse Fire Demos Package, which is a collection of demos the band did for their first two albums, along with previously unreleased live tracks. Listening to these 20 tracks is like getting to meet them as preschoolers after already knowing the full-grown adults. The At Dawn demos were included in the original Darla release of the sophomore album of the same name, but I hadn't discovered the band early enough to get myself a copy of it.
To experience My Morning Jacket stripped down to the raw bones is remarkable. James' vocals become even more powerful in this situation, especially on the falsetto croons and slow, drawn-out arcing notes that slur into each other like a slide guitar. The delicacy of the instrumentation also comes through in these recordings—from the intricate twinkling on some tunes as in "Hopefully" to the simple gospel-blues of "Lead Me Father."
The live tracks are also a treat, although these do not do James and the gang justice for what they do when they're on stage. I can say this firsthand because I saw them in the winter of 2004 in a little club in the Prenzlauerberg section of Berlin. Standing right up front, James' long curly hair and guitar neck nearly struck me, as the band got the Berliners so infected with their distinct blend of indie rock that the entire crowd was jamming right along.
For all those MMJ fans who weren't lucky enough to pick up the first printing of At Dawn, this collection lets you receive the bonus you missed. Combine that with the Tennessee Fire demos and the added live cuts, and this CD is a chance to understand the band at an entirely new level--an opportunity to meet them in their formative years even if you, like me, didn't have the luck to find them until their junior year. • Katy Henriksen